Out-of-Sight A/V

Prices for flat-panel TVs have been reduced to a level where they’ve literally become throwaway commodities. Just yesterday, a customer informed me that he was going to put a TV outside on his deck and “leave it there until it breaks, then buy another one.”

With TV prices so cheap, people are adding more and more sets — outfitting kids’ rooms, guest rooms, and even spare rooms with snazzy flat-panels.

At the same time, the rise of inexpensive media receivers like AppleTV, as well as Blu-ray players with Netflix streaming, means that most people want at least one auxiliary device connected to their new sets.

The elegant design of flat-panel TVs has helped to de-clutter and de-emphasize electronics in a room, but when you talk about connecting components to those sets, you’re still saddled with black (or white) boxes and wires. For many, this presents a problem.

Fortunately, there’s a solution: Put those components in remote locations. Lately, I’ve received lots of requests to tuck a Blu-ray player or a cable box away in a closet where it won’t be “an eyesore.” When doing this, there are three key things to keep in mind.

The Video

Getting a picture to a flat-panel TV requires some form of video cabling. It is often a very risky proposition to use HDMI cables more than 10 meters in length. While I’ve successfully installed HDMI cables up to 15 meters, this is definitely a case of “try it before you run it,” especially when wiring inside a wall. And remotely locating gear — with wires running up the wall, through the ceiling, and down to the display — will often mean cable runs that exceed 15 meters.

Here, using inexpensive Cat-5 cable and a send/receive balun system such as Key Digital’s KD-CATHD (around $200) is the perfect solution. Baluns are available to handle any type of video signal: composite, VGA, component, or HDMI. And ones based on the new HDBaseT technology can carry full-rez Blu-ray 3D programs — along with audio, Ethernet, and control signals — up to 100 meters.

The Audio

If you’re using an HDMI cable and just running audio to a TV over that connection, you’ll be all set. If you’re using a component or composite connection for video, you’ll need to run the audio separately — which can be done pretty easily with regular RCA interconnects, dual runs of RG-6, or a Cat-5/balun setup.

If you have a separate house-wide audio-distribution system, however, sending TV audio to it can pose another set of challenges. One great solution is a product like the Niles TVA-50 ($300). This auto-switching local amplifier passes through house-wide audio when the TV is turned off. But when the TV is turned on, it automatically amplifies and sends audio delivered from the set’s variable analog audio output to any speakers in the room.

The Control

Some new gear like certain Sony and LG Blu-ray players and Time Warner or Comcast DVRs allow for iControl: You install a free app on your smartphone or tablet and then can control those components as long as you’re within Wi-Fi range.

However, traditional infrared (IR) or radio-frequency (RF) remotes are far more common, and they’ll work with every A/V component. A hard-wired IR repeater systemsuch as the Niles RCA-HT2 can be had for no more than $300, but I prefer RF remote controls (URC makes good ones) because they aren’t prone to sunlight interference and you don’t have to point the remote at a target.

Follow those steps and your gear can be out of sight, but definitely not out of mind!